Thanks for the kind words. Seems to me that we continue to delude ourselves on two very different levels: (1) Investing small-picture stuff with far more significance than it has, to the point where recycling becomes a feel-good ritual that helps us avoid facing larger issues, and (2) indulging in denial of the big-picture problem by accepting the myth that environmental problems will be solved by some powerful technological fix, e.g., hydrogen. This fantasy enables people to keep on driving SUVs and wasting energy because they believe the Big Solution to hyperconsumption is just around the corner. It's sort of like St. Augustine saying, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." Speaking of whom, aren't both these modes of behavior really sort of secular religiosity? In one, we carry out the rituals; in the other, we believe in a heavenly kingdom to come! It's surely as much of an opiate as Marx claimed religion was, minus the ethical or mystical possibilities.
Thanks for getting in touch. As I wrote this message, I was amazed to see it grow into an essay of sorts on the anthropology of grocery shopping, or something.
It's certainly good when grocery bags get recycled, but vast numbers of them aren't. In some places, they jam up sewer and water systems; everywhere, they incur disposal costs. That's why some countries have banned their use or charge shoppers a fee for them.
By "recycling," I was thinking more of people who reuse plastic grocery bags for some other purpose: on their next trip to the supermarket, to line their garbage can, to pick up dog excrement, or whatever.
There don't seem to be many places that accept plastic bags for actual recycling. I only know of two in my town, Berkeley, which is famous for its pioneering recycling policies and its zealous supporters of the practice. But check out plasticbagrecycling.org to see if there's a spot near you. Of course, if you have to make a special trip by car to get the bags to a recycler, you'll consume way more fossil fuel than it takes to make the darn things in the first place.
My recommendation is simply to use canvas or string bags. I've had the same canvas bags for almost 25 years. They've gotten ragged and need mending from time to time, but I feel affection for them, like people often do for any familiar, durable, well-wrought old object, be it a tool or a quality doormat. True, the bags' sorry condition sometimes reminds me of my own mortality and impending doom, but hey, it's probably therapeutic to contemplate such matters from time to time. They may be helping save my pathetic soul along with our beleaguered environment.
Stores in my town deduct 5¢ from your grocery bill if you use your own bag. Shopping once a week, I save $2.60 per bag annually, and so, over the course of 25 years, each bag has saved me $65, for a total of $260. Not a bad investment, though I might've done better with Microsoft stock.
It might be fun to make your own bags or use nice wicker baskets to carry your groceries, which would take you full circle in shopping history. The grocery cart itself was the result of a flash of insight by Oklahoma retailer Sylvan Goldman. Back in the 1930s, when shoppers carried groceries in baskets, Goldman had a vision of attaching wheels to them, and voila, the grocery cart. The social implications of this simple invention have been immense.
Finally, an argument could be made that plastic bags are utterly unnecessary since they weren't even introduced in stores until the 1970s.
Views expressed by readers may not reflect those of Mr. Green or Sierra.
Reader suggestions have not been researched or tested.
Mr. Green illustration by Melinda Beck; used with permission.
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